PEI

Indigenous survivors of sexual violence on P.E.I. to get new, culturally appropriate healing

The P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre is offering a new program for Indigenous survivors of sexual violence called Braiding Sweetgrass. 

'I think it's extremely important to address some of the trauma that has happened'

Rachael Crowder, executive director of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, says priority will be given to Indigenous applicants for a new therapist position that will better serve Indigenous clients. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

The P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre is offering a new program for Indigenous survivors of sexual violence called Braiding Sweetgrass. 

The organization says the program's goal is to build its relationship with First Nations communities and provide healing for Indigenous women, those who identify as women and those with non-conforming gender identities.

"We have been wanting to provide service to the Indigenous population on Prince Edward Island for some time," said Rachael Crowder, the organization's executive director. They'd already been approached by the health centre on Lennox Island First Nation, she added. 

"We've been seeing Indigenous clients for years through our regular programming," she said, but notes some encountered transportation challenges to access the service's urban locations.

The new program is partially funded by the province with support from Canadian Women's Foundation and in partnership with the Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I. 

The program was designed in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action in 2015 to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients, when requested.

'Culturally safe healing'

The centre's plan is to hire a new — hopefully, Indigenous — therapist to spend one day a week in each of P.E.I.'s two First Nations, Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort and Lennox Island First Nation in Lennox Island. That therapist will also provide therapy to survivors at at least one of the centre's urban locations. 

The healing could incorporate traditional Indigenous healing practices such as a sweat lodge. (Shane Ross/CBC)

"The program is more broadly looking at how we can build the relationship between our organizations so that we can provide culturally safe healing, no matter where those services are accessed, whether it's on the reserve or in our urban locations," Crowder said. 

She calls it a two-eyed seeing approach — combining the best of traditional Indigenous healing practices, such as sweat lodges, and the latest western medical knowledge. 

"I think it's extremely important to address some of the trauma that has happened not only as a result of sexualized violence in Indigenous communities, and also the history of colonization and other forms of oppression, the poverty that is sometimes experienced as a result of colonization," Crowder said.

"It will help us to get to know what our biases are, to expand our own world views and ways of understanding," she added.

The centre is looking for a therapist with a master's-level education in social work or counselling, psychology or education and be professionally registered, and preferably have experience working with Mi'kmaq clients. Preference will be given to Indigenous applicants, Crowder said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Sheehan Desjardins

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